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The Judgment is God's

Written By
William O. Einwechter

Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s . . . (Deut. 1:17).

Introduction

Someone has said that politics is the “art of the possible,” implying that our political plans and aspirations should be determined by what is practical and workable in the present political climate. In one sense, this appears to be a true maxim. Since politics refers to the governing of others and the administration of public affairs, it is evident that there must be a measure of consent and agreement between the magistrates and the governed as to policy and law if there is to be peace. Also, those who are legislators must work with other lawmakers if necessary laws are to be framed and put into practice. But in another sense, the statement that politics is the “art of the possible” is dangerous for it has the possibility of reducing politics to mere pragmatism and of causing legislators and other magistrates to be guided solely by prevailing public opinion in administering public affairs. 

Furthermore, seeing political action only in terms of what is possible, stifles true reform where and when it is needed the most. If the vision of politicians and the citizens who hold the franchise is limited to only what is “possible,” then the vital question of what “ought” to be is pushed to the side or even forgotten. All talk of “reform” is limited to minor adjustments of the present system and status quo, and any who seek more than this are dismissed as troublesome dreamers and visionaries.

But followers of Jesus Christ should not see politics in the pragmatic sense of  the “art of the possible,” but rather, see politics in the ethical sense of the “art of the ought.” Politics deals with the sphere of civil government and is “that part of ethics which consists in the regulation and government of a nation or state, for the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity . . . .”[1] Politics, as Webster points out, is a part of ethics, and therefore, the ultimate issue in politics is not what is possible to be done but what ought to be done. The ethical standards that govern politics are found in the revealed Word of God, not in public opinion or human reason. Consequently, as Christians, our purpose should be to articulate the teachings of the Bible in reference to the sphere of civil government and to seek the reform of American government according to these biblical standards. Our primary political consideration should be in the sphere of what ought to be done in the politics of this nation, not what people believe is possible to be done. The question of possibility is in the hands of God. Duty is ours, consequences are God’s.

One of the most important statements in all of Scripture concerning civil government and the role of the civil magistrate is found in Deuteronomy 1:17 where Moses declares, “for the judgment is God’s.” An understanding of this pronouncement by Moses is crucial for the establishment of a sound biblical theology of the nature of civil government and of the duty of the civil magistrate; thus, it is vital to true biblical reform in the politics of our nation. By studying this declaration in the context of Deuteronomy 1:13-17 we will seek to establish biblically what ought to be done to bring the politics of this nation into blessed harmony with the standards of the Word of God. Politics is the “art of the ought,” and Moses, as God’s prophet, provided the basis for what magistrates and citizens “ought” to do in their politics when he said, “for the judgment is God’s.”

The Judgment Is God’s: Interpretation

A proper understanding of the declaration that “the judgment is God’s” begins with a consideration of the context of Deuteronomy 1:17. In this section of Deuteronomy, Moses is recounting the history of Israel from their arrival at Mount Horeb and the receiving of the law until the time when the nation was gathered on the plains of Moab in preparation for their entrance into the land of Canaan. 

The first event that Moses relates took place right before Israel’s arrival at Horeb, and it concerns the selection of men to assist Moses in the judging and ruling of the people (Deut. 1:9-18; cf. Ex. 18:13-26). It had become evident that Moses could not govern the nation by himself, so the Lord directed Moses through the mouth of Jethro his father-in-law to appoint qualified men to help him in judging and overseeing the people. A series of “courts” were also established providing the people direct access to adjudication with the more difficult cases being referred to Moses. The establishment of these judges and courts were important steps in the formation of the nation. It is also significant to note that the context indicates that the institution of the civil courts and the appointment of civil rulers in Israel were due to God’s covenant love and faithfulness to His people; civil government is a gift of God intended for the establishment of peace and justice in society.

After Moses was convinced that the Lord was directing him through Jethro, he charged the people to choose suitable men so that he could appoint them to be their rulers and judges (Deut. 1:13). In his charge, Moses stated the necessary qualifications for the office: “Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you” (cf. Ex. 18:21). The people were given the liberty of choosing their own rulers. However, the men they chose must meet certain standards of character and conduct; otherwise they would not be fit for the high responsibilities of the office. Moses would not install (“appoint”) any man into office who failed to measure up to the stated credentials.

Moses continues his narrative of events by a recital of the people’s acceptance of the plan to choose their own rulers and of his appointment of the men that they chose (Deut. 1:14-15). Then Moses recounts the charge that he gave to the new magistrates concerning the duties of their office:

And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him. Ye shall not respect persons in judgment; but ye shall hear the small as well as the great; ye shall not be afraid of the face of man; for the judgment is God’s: and the cause that is too hard for you, bring it unto me and I will hear it (Deut. 1:16-17).

Moses’ charge is of great significance for it contains vital truth about the work of a civil magistrate and of the foundation of his office. In regard to his work (or duty), Moses states four particulars. 

First, the judge or magistrate must carefully consider the cases or problems brought before him by diligently inquiring into the question or controversy so as to ascertain as well as he is able all the facts surrounding the case and the perspective of all parties involved. Magistrates must not be lazy nor render hasty decisions, but must apply all their powers to the work. They must research the facts and gather all the information they possibly can. People’s lives and well-being are in the balance, and it would be a great wrong if justice and protection were denied them because a magistrate’s decision was poorly investigated and not based on the true facts of the situation.

Second, magistrates must render their decisions and draft their laws in strict accordance with the requirements of justice; they must “judge righteously.” Justice is the heart of the magistrate’s concern; he must seek justice in each and every case he decides and in each and every law he enacts or enforces. 

Third, civil judges and rulers should be totally impartial in their judgment. They should give no regard to who the persons are in the case, but they should only be concerned that justice is rendered. Furthermore, judges and rulers must not allow the fear of reprisal to keep them from giving a just sentence. Therefore, civil magistrates must seek to establish and uphold justice among those who are under their jurisdiction and they cannot permit anything to stand in the way of their duty — not the identity of the persons concerned, nor the fear of revenge, nor the dread of giving a decision that will be unpopular with the people. 

Fourth, cases that were too hard or difficult for the local judges were to be brought for judgment to the high court or authority established by God. When Deuteronomy was written, this meant bringing the case to Moses to hear and decide (cf. Ex. 18:22, 26), but in later times to a central tribunal located at the place of God’s sanctuary and presided over by “the priest” and “the judge” (Deut. 17:8-13).

In the midst of his charge to the rulers Moses asserts, “. . . for the judgment is God’s . . . .” (Deut. 1:17). This statement is central to all that Moses has said to the magistrates concerning their duty, and it provides the foundation for understanding the office and work of civil rulers.  Therefore, the phrase requires a careful and detailed analysis.

The statement of Moses begins with the word “for.” The Hebrew word means “because,” “since,” or “on account of the fact that,” and normally introduces a causal clause that assigns the reason for previous statements or demands.[2] The Hebrew causal clause sets forth one situation as constituting the basis for another.[3] Therefore, the phrase, “for the judgment is God’s” is a causal clause assigning the reason for Moses’ charge to the magistrates to “judge righteously” and to “not respect persons in judgment.” The fact that the “judgment is God’s” constitutes the basis for the ruler’s duty to pursue justice in all he does. Thus, this causal clause clearly ties the office of civil ruler to God Himself; it shows that the civil magistrate is under God’s authority, and is duty bound to serve Him and administer justice in accord with God’s will.

To “judge righteously,” therefore, is to judge in conformity with the standard established by God’s moral law. The “judgment” of the magistrate is to correspond to the judgment of God in each and every case he confronts. Accordingly, the Hebrew word here translated “for” is vital for a true understanding of Moses’ declaration that “the judgment is God’s”; it indicates that the office and work of the civil ruler and judge are founded on God’s authority and God’s Word, and that all a magistrate does is to be in pursuit of the justice defined by God’s moral law.

The Hebrew noun mishpat, that is translated in Moses’ declaration by the English word “judgment,” comes from the Hebrew verb shapat which means “to act as a law-giver, judge, governor (giving law, deciding controversies, and executing law, civil, religious, political, social) . . . .”[4] The noun mishpat (“judgment”), accordingly, refers primarily to the exercise of the process of government and includes the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government. It is a comprehensive term that gathers together in one word the work of the civil magistrate.[5] In the ancient Near East, the civil ruler or judge was not limited to only one function of government, as is often the case in the modern western nations, but he carried out aspects of each of the three spheres of government; he was involved in giving the law, rendering decisions in disputes, and in the administrative tasks of governing a people. Culver states that mishpat

[r]epresents what is doubtless the most important idea for a correct understanding of government — whether of man by man or of the whole creation by God. Though rendered “judgment” in most of the four hundred or so appearances of mishpat in the Hebrew Bible, this rendering is often defective for us moderns by reason of our novel way of distinctly separating legislative, executive, and judicial functions and functionaries in government. Hence shapat, the common verb (from which our word mishpat is derived) meaning “to rule, govern,” referring to all functions of government is erroneously restricted to judicial processes only, whereas both the verb and noun include all these functions.[6]

“Judgment” (mishpat) is also closely related to our English word “justice” in that both terms describe the purpose and end of all the magistrate’s work.[7] The ultimate duty of all judges, rulers, and governors is to establish and maintain justice. “Judgment” is properly done only when justice is properly done. True judgment is the establishment of justice. If the magistrates enact just laws, if the courts hand down just decisions, and if the just claims (i.e., the “rights”) of the citizens are protected, then you have proper “judgment.” The goal of government is justice. This is made explicit by Moses when he says that judges and civil officers are to “judge [shapat] the people with just judgment [mishpat],” and follow after that which is “altogether just” (Deut. 16:18-20). The Hebrew word for “just” means that which conforms to the standard of God’s law, and can also be translated by the word “righteous.” Therefore, magistrates are to rule the people with righteous government, laws, and court decisions.

Furthermore, the comprehensive meaning of “judgment” as being the functions and process of government clearly leads to its denotation of sovereignty, or, “the legal foundation of government in the sense of ultimate authority or right.”[8] Those who exercise judgment do so because of the measure of authority that they possess and this authority is derived from some sovereign power; without sovereignty there can be no legitimate “judgment.”   

So then, “judgment” is an extensive term comprehending the whole work of civil government; it is a word closely related to justice in that both denote the purpose of government; and it is a word that can express the idea of sovereignty which is the authority for judgment. Moses states that this judgment “is God’s.” What does this indicate?

The Hebrew text says literally, “for the judgment to God himself,” and expresses the truth that all judgment is God’s in very emphatic terms. The preposition “to” means that “judgment” is directly related to God and can only be understood in terms of that relationship.  This relationship is properly expressed in English by the present tense of the verb to be. The “judgment is God’s” because as Creator He is sovereign over all and the source for all judgment among His creatures; thus, the functions of government are defined by Him, the authority for government proceeds from Him, and the notion of justice is determined by Him. Therefore, we say that “the judgment is God’s” because it belongs to Him. God is the source of judgment, and He defines judgment. In the Hebrew text “God” (Elohim) is followed by the third person masculine pronoun, “himself.” This is a Hebrew idiom that strengthens the subject,[9] and, consequently, it serves to make God’s relationship to “judgment” both certain and emphatic. As the Sovereign Lord of all, judgment belongs to Him and to Him alone!

Perhaps we can make the meaning of the text clearer by considering the fact that “judgment” belongs either to God or it belongs to man. Either God is the source and determiner of judgment, or man is the source and determiner of judgment. There are no other options. Either the Creator defines judgment and justice, or the creature defines judgment and justice. Either God’s Word interprets the sphere of civil government, or man’s word interprets the sphere of civil government. Either God is the source of authority for civil government, or man is the source of authority for civil government. Either magistrates answer to God, or they answer to man (or to no one but themselves if they have the power to impose their will). The issue of civil government ultimately comes down to the question of theonomy versus autonomy; man is either under the authority of God and His law, or he is a law unto himself, determining good and evil for himself. Autonomous man claims that the judgment is man’s, but the Word of God declares that “the judgment is God’s” (Deut. 1:17).

Therefore, Moses’ inspired teaching that “the judgment is God’s” is of the utmost importance in understanding the sphere of civil government. In its context, Moses’ declaration provides the foundation for the work of judges and rulers, and indicates the reason why the magistrate must govern the people justly — the authority of his office is derived from God, and he serves as God’s representative to uphold God’s moral law. God is sovereign over the institution of civil government; hence, the authority for the exercise of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government belongs ultimately to Him. God is the King of the nations (Ps. 47), and the power and prerogative for “judgment” is exclusively His!  “For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king” (Isa. 33:22, emphasis added).

The Judgment is God’s: Application

Having established the basic meaning of the phrase, “for the judgment is God’s,” we now consider the implications of this all important statement for determining a true biblical theology of civil government. Here we want to apply the teaching of Deuteronomy 1:17 by stating and explaining six definite implications of Moses’ teaching that “the judgment is God’s.”

1. The foundation and authority for civil government rests in the ordinance of God.

Since all judgment belongs to God, only He can establish judgment among men; only He can ordain the institution of civil government. If God is the Creator of all things, then He is sovereign over all His creation and all authority rests in Him. Any authority possessed by His intelligent creatures (i.e., men and angels) must be a derived and limited authority which is based in and proceeds from God’s original authority. Authority to rule and govern others cannot originate in the will of man, but only in the will of God because God is the ultimate Sovereign; hence, “the legal foundation of government in the sense of ultimate authority or right”[10] is His.

The Apostle Paul states unequivocally that civil government has been established by God, and therefore, its authority is legitimate and ought to be obeyed by men:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.  Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation (Rom. 13:1-2).

The “higher powers” is a reference to civil government. Paul here teaches that civil government is “the ordinance of God,” i.e., it has been established by God’s authority and appointment. Calvin, commenting on this text, says:

The reason why we ought to be subject unto magistrates is, because they are constituted by God’s ordination. For since it pleases God thus to govern the world, he who attempts to invert the order of God, and thus to resist God himself, despises his power; since to despise the providence of him who is the founder of civil power, is to carry on war with him. Understand further, that powers are from God, not as pestilence, and famine, and wars, and other visitations for sin, are said to be from him; but because he has appointed them for the legitimate and just government of the world.[11]

Clearly, the doctrine of this text is that, “Civil government is a divine institution, i.e., it is the will of God that it should exist, and be respected and obeyed.”[12]

Furthermore, Paul’s statement reveals that the civil government of every nation derives its legitimate authority to rule (not its illegitimate use of authority) from the one true God. Thus, “by placing every civil government under the triune God, he [Paul] radically altered the nature of politics.”[13]

Since the authority of the civil ruler and judge is derived from God’s appointment, the magistrate’s authority is not absolute but is limited by the will of God. The magistrate must stay within the bounds that God has set for him; he cannot legitimately exercise any more power than God has granted to him. The magistrate’s authority extends only as far as God prescribes and no further. Civil government is not the only governing institution that God has established. There is also the family and the church. Each institution is given authority by God to govern in its appointed sphere. Because its authority is from God, the state must recognize and regard the limits that God has placed upon it and must respect the governments of the family and of the church which are also appointed by God.

The starting point for our understanding of civil government is the fact that it is an ordinance of God and subject to His will in all things. Therefore, the authority for civil government is not found in “nature,” raw power, or in a social contract. The sovereignty lies with God, not with man.    

2. The civil magistrate discharges his duties as God’s representative and servant. 

Since all “judgment” belongs to God, the rulers who are charged with the task of judgment belong to Him also. The magistrate is “the minister [diakonos] of God” (Rom. 13:4-6). This means that all kings, governors, judges, and legislators are under God’s authority and serve by His commission, not by their own or by the people’s. Charnock describes the magistrate’s relation to God well:

If God hath a sovereign dominion over the whole world, then hence it follows, that all magistrates are but sovereigns under God. He is King of kings and Lord of lords; all potentates of the world are no other than his lieutenants, moveable at his pleasure, and more at his disposal than their subjects are at theirs. Though dignified with the title of “gods” [Ps. 82:1, 6; Ex. 22:28], yet still they are at an infinite distance from the supreme Lord; gods under God, not to be above him, not to be against him.[14]

Civil rulers do have authority over men, but it is a delegated authority from Almighty God, and to Him they must also give account as His ministers. Civil rulers are to receive honor from men, but in relation to God they are mere servants who are in office as His representatives, serving at His pleasure, and charged with the duty of carrying out His will. They have a master in heaven, and to Him they owe their obedience:

If God be Sovereign, all under-sovereigns are not to rule against him, but to be obedient to his orders. If they “rule by his authority” (Prov. viii. 15), they are not to rule against his interests; they are not to imagine themselves as absolute as God, and that their laws must be of as sovereign authority against his honor, as the Divine are for it. If they be his lieutenants on earth, they ought to act according to his orders. No man but will account a governor of a province a rebel, if he disobeys the orders sent to him by the sovereign prince that commissioned him. Rebellion against God is a crime of princes, as well as rebellion against princes is a crime of subjects . . . . Magistrates, as commissioned by God, ought to act for him. Doth human authority ever give a commission to any to rebel against itself? Did God ever depute any earthly sovereignty against his glory, and give them leave to outlaw his laws, to introduce their own? No; when he gave the vicarious dominion to Christ, he calls upon the kings of the earth to be instructed, and be wise, and “kiss the Son” (Ps. ii. 10, 12), i.e. to observe his orders, and pay him homage as their Governor.[15]

Civil magistrates must understand that they carry out their duties by commission from God, and therefore, should walk and serve in the fear of God, seeking to give “just judgment”:

And he said to the judges, Take heed what ye do: for ye judge not for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in judgment.  Wherefore now let the fear of the Lord be upon you: take heed and do it: for there is no iniquity with the Lord our God, nor respect of persons, nor taking of gifts (2 Chron. 19:6-7).

Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout all thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment. Thou shalt not wrest judgment . . . that which is altogether just shalt thou follow . . . (Deut. 16:18-20).

3. All civil law must be based in the revealed law of God. 

Since all “judgment” belongs to God, He is the source of all law and the sovereign legislator and lawgiver for all men and nations. If God is the one who ordains civil government, and if the magistrate is God’s servant, then God’s law ought to be the standard of all civil law. If God charges the magistrate to rule the people with “just judgment,” then their judgment would have to be in accord with the justice revealed in God’s Word. “Justice,” biblically speaking, is not some nebulous concept that varies from place to place or from time to time. The Hebrew word for justice (tsedek) refers to that which conforms to the standard of God’s unchanging moral law! Therefore, a judge cannot give a just decision in court or impose a just sentence nor can a governor or legislator enact just legislation unless the decision, sentence, or legislation is in line with the applicable standards of justice revealed by God’s law. As we have written in another place:

The state is appointed by God to execute His wrath upon evil doers, and to praise and defend those who walk in righteousness (Rom. 13:1-6; Prov. 17:5). This means that the state has been commissioned by God to administer justice in society (Deut. 1:16-17; 16:18). To the state belongs the power of distributive justice which consists in giving to every man that judgment and equity, protection or punishment that the law requires. Therefore, it is evident that the civil magistrate is appointed to enforce the law. But whose law is the magistrate to enact and enforce upon those under his jurisdiction? Is not the biblical answer to this question clear? If the magistrate is God’s servant appointed to execute God’s vengeance on evil doers, then it must be God’s law that the magistrate is to administer and enforce![16]

As the Creator and moral Governor of His creation, God Himself is the only possible standard of justice, and He makes known His standard of justice to men by special revelation (i.e., scriptural revelation); it is simply too important an issue to leave to the conscience of fallen man or to an undefined “natural law” which can be manipulated by sinners to whatever purpose that suits them. The primary sources for the standards of civil law and justice are the civil statutes and case laws of the Old Testament; through these laws God reveals the demands of the moral law in terms of civil justice. By meditating on the Old Testament laws relating to civil justice and discerning the “general equity” contained in them, the magistrate will be instructed in how to carry out his duties of judgment in accord with the eternal principles of justice revealed to him by God.

4. The penalties for the breech of the civil law should be conformed to the penalties prescribed in biblical law.

Since all “judgment” belongs to God, the sole right to establish just penalties for the violation of civil law belongs to God also. If we believe that God is sovereign and that His law defines for us what constitutes a civil crime, then does it not also follow that God’s law should be the final authority for defining the just punishment for civil crimes? If the King of all the earth identifies a certain act as a crime, and then He also proceeds to establish the penalty for that crime, what authority do we have to accept His definition of crime but reject His prescribed penalty? If “the judgment is God’s,” then this must mean that He is sovereign over the subject of penology.

The Scripture says that the magistrate “beareth not the sword in vain, for he is a minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:4). The sword is the symbol of the state’s power to inflict punishment on those who break the civil law and disturb the public peace.[17] It is clear that God has given the state this power, and it is equally clear that the magistrate is to wield the sword as God’s “minister” (diakonos, servant), visiting God’s vengeance upon the man who does “evil.” Two actions are necessary if the magistrate is to carry out his duty as stated by Paul in Romans 13. First, he must properly identify the “evil” that he has been authorized to punish. Second, he must determine the appropriate punishment (vengeance) for that evil. The biblical theology of the state requires that he consult God’s Word for guidance and instruction as to his duty for both actions; how else could he fulfill his position as God’s minister inflicting God’s vengeance on the criminal?

One of the most important aspects of justice is found in the punishment phase of the law; in fact, without proper punishment (i.e., just retribution) there is no justice. Would justice be served if a criminal is arrested, tried, and convicted, but no penalty is imposed — or to make it more specific, if a thief, rapist, or murderer is arrested, tried, and convicted, and then let go without any penalty imposed — of course not! But who determines the just penalty for a crime? Only God has the authority to do so because “the judgment is God’s”! If men reject the penalties laid down in biblical law for such crimes as murder, adultery, sodomy, theft, kidnapping, rape, false witness, public blasphemy, etc., then they are claiming that in regard to punishment the “judgment” is man’s. But this cannot be because Scripture says all “judgment” belongs to God! The punishments prescribed in Scripture establish perfect justice (Ps. 19:7; Heb. 2:2). The penalties established by biblical law are neither too harsh, nor too lenient. In God’s law the punishment always fits the crime. Therefore, the magistrate can only give a “just judgment” if he follows God’s law both in the definition of what constitutes a civil crime and in the establishment of what constitutes a just penalty for a particular civil crime.

5. Only God-fearing men of truth, wisdom, and ability should be appointed to the office of civil magistrate.

Since all “judgment” belongs to God, the sole prerogative to fix the necessary qualifications for those who would serve as civil rulers belongs to Him also. God is sovereign over all aspects of civil government, and He, not man, defines the work of the magistrate, and He describes the kind of men that are fit for the office.

The Scripture establishes the responsibility of the people to choose their magistrates. The citizens of Israel are charged by Moses to fulfill this duty on two distinct and separate occasions. Shortly after Israel had come out of Egypt, Moses instructed the people to select (elect) their magistrates, saying, “Take you wise men . . . and I will make them rulers over you” (Deut. 1:13). The Hebrew word for “take” is in the imperative here and it means to provide or choose. The word “you” means “for yourselves.” Thus, Moses commands the people to choose their own magistrates, and then as God’s prophet, he will commission or install them into their office. Then, nearly forty years later as Israel is preparing to enter the promised land, Moses teaches the people that when they enter the land it will be their responsibility to choose men and establish them in the gates of their cities to be their rulers: “Judges and officers shalt thou make in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment” (Deut. 16:18). Moses’ instruction is again in the form of a command; it is their duty under God’s law to choose their magistrates.[18]

Now are we to presume that God gave the people the authority to select the men who would serve as His ministers in the office of civil magistrate, but then gave them no definite guidance as to the kind of men they should choose? No, we should not, for the Scripture contains explicit teaching on the necessary qualifications for civil rulers. God reveals the standard for citizens in choosing their rulers in the following texts:

Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens (Ex. 18:21).

Take you wise men, and understanding, and known among your tribes, and I will make them rulers over you (Deut. 1:13).

When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn (Prov. 29:2).

If the citizen is to honor God and establish justice in civil government, then he should support men who appear to him to meet these qualifications.[19] Calvin, in his sermon on Deut. 17:15, explained the implications of that text to the citizens of Geneva by saying:

Let us mark also that if God has given a people the grace to choose Kings, Princes, Magistrates or Judges, they ought to have great regard that the seat which God hath ordained for the welfare of mankind, be not given to a man that is an unbeliever. For the people that chooseth either king or judge, without discerning whether he be a man that feareth God or no: do put the halter about their own necks willfully. And when they shall choose, and take Magistrates that are either deadly enemies of the Gospel, or hypocrites, that seek nothing else but to turn all things upsidedown, or worldlings that could find in their hearts to tread religion under foot: is not the admitting of such men as an opening of the gate unto Satan, that he might have place among us? Is it not a rejecting of God’s grace, to the end that all abominations might have their full scope? So then, whensoever we choose Judges, Magistrates, Governors and Officers of Justice, let us take warning by this text, to look for this mark in them, that they be men which fear God, and are at least desirous that Religion should be maintained in his jurisdiction: For otherwise it is all one as if we would drive God from us, and seek to banish him from among us; which is too cursed a treachery.[20]

Symington argues convincingly that God’s law is the standard citizens ought to follow when it comes to electing their civil rulers:

But is it to be supposed that the people, who are invested with the right of election, are left without all control in the exercise of this right; that they are at liberty, acting from mere prejudice, self-interest, or caprice, to choose whom they will; and that the objects of their choice are forthwith, in consequence of being so chosen, invested with lawful and indisputable authority? So far from this being the case, the people are bound to use their elective power discreetly and wisely; they are under obligation to fix upon men possessed of qualifications fitting them for office; nor are they themselves constituted the sole judges of what these qualifications may be. God has given them in his Word a supreme rule of direction, in which the character of civil rulers is described, and only such as seem to them to be possessed of this character are they at liberty to appoint. If the people were under no restriction of this nature, it is fearful to think of the consequences that would ensue. As the power of the magistrate is not an absolute power which he is at liberty to employ as he chooses, so neither is the right of the elector an absolute right which he is at liberty to exercise as he chooses. Both the one and the other are placed under the limiting control of the Divine Law; and it is only when they are used according to this law that they are used aright.[21]

Therefore, since all “judgment” belongs to God, only those who meet the qualifications for the office of ruler established by God should be made rulers by men. Furthermore, how effective can a magistrate be in carrying out his God-given duty if he rejects the truth that “the judgment is God’s” (cf. Prov. 28:5)? Citizens act foolishly if they elevate men to the position of magistrate who do not confess and submit to the truth that “judgment” belongs to God.[22] Therefore, there should be a “religious test” for office, and that test should prescribe that only those men who fear God and submit to the authority of His law-word are eligible to serve as magistrates.[23]

6. The civil covenants and constitutions of the state should explicitly recognize in appropriate language the sovereignty of God and Christ over civil government.

Since all “judgment” belongs to God, this fact ought to be clearly stated by men in their political covenants so that this truth will form the basis of their whole political system. Every civil constitution (covenant) should define “the legal foundation of government in the sense of ultimate authority or right.”[24] If men are to recognize the truth that civil government is the ordinance of God, subject to Him in all things, then their civil constitutions should confess the sovereignty of God and the authority of the law of God over their government.

But if men ground the sovereignty of the state in the king, in parliament, in congress, or in the people, then you have a state that is established in virtual defiance against God’s authority; such action denies that “the judgment is God’s,” and declares, in effect, that in this government “the judgment is man’s.” Since the very nature of a constitution is to establish the fundamental law, structure, authority, and legal procedure that will govern all that takes place in the nation, any constitution that does not ground these things in God and His Word effectively establishes, wittingly or unwittingly, a secular state. There is no neutrality in constitutions! They either constitute God as King or man as King.

The United States Constitution, regardless of its virtues as a procedural document, regardless of the Christian principles embodied in its text, and regardless of the Christian character of many of the founders, is yet seriously flawed because it does not definitely recognize God’s sovereignty over the nation. Instead, the Constitution goes no further than to ground this nation in the authority of “we the people.” The United States Constitution fails to explicitly confess that “the judgment is God’s.” Therefore there is a need to amend the Constitution to bring it into conformity with the fundamental fact that civil government is the ordinance of God. At the conference in Xenia, Ohio (February 3, 1863) which led to the formation of the National Reform Movement (which later became the National Reform Association), John Alexander presented a paper in which he stated:

We regard the neglect of God and His law, by omitting all acknowledgment of them in our Constitution, as the crowning, original sin of the nation, and slavery as one of its natural outgrowths. Therefore, the most important step remains yet to be taken — to amend the Constitution so as to acknowledge God and the authority of His law . . . .[25]

In pursuit of its goal to amend the Constitution, the National Reform Association has employed in the past the following Form of Petition for a Christian amendment to the United States Constitution:

The undersigned, citizens of the United States, petition your honorable bodies for such an Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as shall suitably express our national acknowledgment of Almighty God as the source of all authority in civil government; of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler of nations, and of his revealed will as the supreme standard to decide moral issues in national life, and thus indicate that this is a Christian nation, and place all the Christian laws, institutions, and usages of the government on an undeniably legal basis in the fundamental law of the land.[26]

Though today we may want to slightly reword the above petition, its fundamental appeal admirably expresses the need to see the Constitution amended to reflect the great truth that “the judgment is God’s.”[27]

The Judgment is God’s: Christ’s Reign

According to the Old Testament prophetic Scriptures and the New Testament revelation, the statement that the “judgment is God’s” needs to be further defined to declare that in this age of fulfillment “the judgment is Christ’s.” This declaration concerning the Lord Jesus Christ reflects the fact of His current mediatorial reign over the nations. At the time of the resurrection and ascension the Lord Jesus Christ  was invested with all authority in heaven and earth and given dominion over all the nations. The Father has committed all judgment to the Son who presently rules at His right hand. Let us briefly consider three important biblical texts that lead to the conclusion that now the judgment is Christ’s.

Psalm 2 pictures the kings and rulers of the earth in rebellion to the rule of God. The Lord, however, is not at all threatened by their foolish sedition. He is sovereign and has a plan that will lead to the overthrow of these rebels and the recognition of His authority by all nations. His plan is to install His Son as King in “Zion,”[28] i.e., at His right hand (Ps. 110:1), and give His Son dominion over all nations. The Father gives to the Son absolute power and authority, symbolized by the “rod of iron,” to crush the rebellion of the nations against God’s sovereign rule over them. Christ’s reign is God’s answer to this rebellion.

The New Testament witness concerning Psalm 2 is unmistakable: Jesus Christ is the Son, and He was installed as King of the nations at the time of His resurrection and ascension (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 4:25-26; 13:33; Rev. 1:5; 2:27; 12:5; 19:15). Because Christ is now “the prince of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5), and He is under commission from His Father to subdue the rebellion of the kings and rulers of the earth, therefore, the counsel of the Word of God to earthly rulers is this:

Be wise now therefore, O ye kings: be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him (Ps. 2:10-12).

The civil magistrates of this world had better realize that the judgment is Christ’s. They are under His authority, and He is under orders from His Father to “break them with a rod of iron” if they will not repent of their rebellion and humbly submit to His sovereignty over them, and then serve Him as King in their capacity as civil rulers. They have led their nations in rebellion to God’s rule, now let them lead their nations in kissing the Son and confessing that the judgment is Christ’s![29]

Psalm 110 is another crucial text for understanding the mediatorial reign of Christ over the nations. This great prophecy records the Messiah’s exaltation to the right hand of God and the promise of complete victory over His enemies. As in Psalm 2, the Messiah is enthroned as King and given the power to rule in the midst of his enemies. The period of His reign is called “the day of thy power,” and in that day He “shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath . . . and wound the heads over many countries.” The New Testament teaching in regard to the fulfillment of Psalm 110 is clear: the psalm is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ (Matt. 22:41-45).

Jesus Christ was exalted to the right hand of God and given authority over the nations at His resurrection and ascension (Matt. 26:64; Acts 2:32-36); Christ is now “Lord” over all things, including the sphere of civil government (cf. Phil. 2:9-11). During the interadvent period, which is “the day of his power,” He is going forth to subdue the nations to the worship and service of the one and only true God (Rev. 19:11-16). The mediatorial reign of Christ from the Father’s right hand in heaven will consummate in the submission of all things to God; the day will come when “all enemies” will be under His feet (1 Cor. 15:23-28). This is the day of Christ’s power, and, therefore, all “judgment” belongs to Him by virtue of His installation as King at the right hand of God the Father.

Daniel 7:13-14 also provides a vital prophetic witness to the mediatorial reign of Christ over all the nations of the earth, and, hence, to the fact that in this age the “judgment is Christ’s.” The context of Daniel 7 is the record of a vision that Daniel received concerning the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of God over the kingdoms of this world. Daniel says:

I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not pass away (Dan. 7:13-14).

This vision pictures the Father granting to the Son a kingdom and absolute dominion over all the peoples and nations of the earth! As in Psalms 2 and 110 the Son is instated as King of the nations. The purpose and goal of the Father is that “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” How and when was this vision fulfilled? It was fulfilled when Jesus Christ ascended to the Father in the clouds of heaven and took His seat at the Father’s right hand (Matt. 16:28; 26:64; Luke 24:51; Acts 2:33-36). At the ascension Jesus “came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days,” and He was crowned King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14) by the Father and given all power in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18) so that now all nations should serve Him.

The Scriptures emphatically testify to the present mediatorial reign of Christ.[30] He is the Lord; He is the Governor of the nations; He is the King; He is the Messiah, the Prince of the rulers of the earth. He rules from on high at the right hand of God, exercising dominion in the earth, carrying out His commission from the Father to subdue the rebellious kings and rulers of the earth.

Moses declared the basis for understanding the office and work of the civil magistrate when he said, “the judgment is God’s.” This, of course, is still true today. But it is also necessary to declare in this age that “the judgment is Christ’s” because Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the divinely appointed Ruler of nations.[31] All “judgment” has been committed to the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 5:24). Therefore, all the truths concerning civil government that flow from the statement that “the judgment is God’s” should now be specifically applied to Jesus Christ. Christ sets up kings and removes kings; the civil magistrate is a servant of Christ answerable to Him; the law of God which Christ came to establish and fulfill (Matt. 5:17-19) is the standard for civil law; only men who truly believe that Christ is Lord and publicly confess Him as such are fit to be chosen by the people for the office of civil magistrate; and the civil constitutions of the nations should explicitly recognize that Christ is King (cf. Phil. 2:11). To believe today that the “judgment is God’s” requires that we also believe that the “judgment is Christ’s” because Christ is God and God the Father has established His Son as King of the nations.[32]

Christians today must bear witness to the mediatorial reign of Christ and its implications for politics. “Jesus Christ is Lord in all aspects of life, including civil government. Jesus Christ is therefore the Ruler of Nations, and should be explicitly confessed as such in any constitutional documents.”[33] We call upon this nation and our magistrates to heed the counsel of Psalm 2 and pay homage to and serve Christ the King; for to do so is to receive His blessing, but to fail to honor Him thus is to incur his wrath. The Jews at one time rejected Christ and foolishly said, “We have no king but Caesar.”[34] But let us wisely and joyously proclaim that, “We have no king but Christ!”

Conclusion

Taken in context, the statement of Moses that “the judgment is God’s” is a critically important component of the biblical revelation concerning civil government. In fact, it provides the basis, in conjunction with other Scripture, for a true biblical theology of the state. It teaches us that God is sovereign over the institution of civil government, and the authority for the exercise of the legislative, executive, and judicial functions of government belongs ultimately to Him. This magisterial declaration of Moses indicates that the foundational authority for the institution of civil government rests in the ordinance of God; that the civil magistrate is a servant of God; that all civil law should be based in biblical law; that the penalties for the breach of the civil law should correspond to the penalties prescribed in biblical law; that only God-fearing men of truth and understanding should be chosen for the office of civil magistrate; and that the civil covenants and constitutions of a state or nation should explicitly recognize God’s sovereign authority over the civil government of the nation.[35]

The New Testament indicates that Jesus Christ was enthroned as King of the nations at the time of His resurrection and ascension in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies that predicted His mediatorial reign. Therefore, the truth that “the judgment is God’s” finds its actualization in this age through Christ the Lord; so it is now also correct and necessary to say that the judgment is Christ’s.[36]

It is in accordance with these biblical truths that the disciples of Jesus Christ should seek to reform the civil government of America both on the federal and state levels. Because “the judgment is God’s” we must press on until this fact is recognized and implemented in our nation. We need to reject the stifling and deadly pragmatism that reigns in politics today, even among “evangelical” Christians. We ought to reject a watered down approach to reform that vaguely appeals to “traditional values,” “family values,” “reducing the size of government,” “restoring America’s greatness,” and so on. These phrases are all meaningless as a call to reform because they provide no definite moral standard or ethical framework for reform, but rather allow each user or hearer to supply his own.  

Chritians must advocate an explicit biblically-based vision of reform; one that is not ashamed to declare openly that “the judgment is God’s.” Our primary political consideration is what ought to be done in the civil government of this nation and not what is believed to be possible by people of little vision, little courage, and little faith. Our approach to politics should be explicitly Christian. Some may call such an approach foolish, claiming that it is out of touch with “reality.” But we reply that any other approach is out of touch with reality, because the primary political reality of today, or any day, is that “the judgment is God’s.”    

1. ^ Noah Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 1828; Facsimile ed. by the Foundation for American Christian Education, 1967).

2. ^ F. H. W. Gesenius, Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, ed. E. Kautzch, rev. A. E. Cowley, 2nd ed. (Oxford: At the Clarendon Press, 1910), p. 492.

3. ^ Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), p. 640.

4. ^ Frances Brown, S. R. Driver, Charles Briggs, The New Brown, Driver, and Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1907; reprint ed., Lafayette, Ind.: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981), p. 1048.

5. ^ For the usage of “judgment” see:  Ex. 21:31; Lev. 19:15, 35; Num. 27:11, 21; 35:12, 29; Deut. 16:18-19; 17:8, 9, 11; 1 Sam. 8:3; 2 Sam. 8:15; 15:2; 1 Ki. 3:11, 28; 10:9; 1 Chron. 18:14; Ezra 7:26; Job 8:3; 34:12; Prov. 20:8; 29:4; Ecc. 5:8; Isa. 1:17; 9:7; 59:8, 14; Jer. 7:5; Ez. 45:9; Amos 5:15, 24; Mic. 3:9; Zech. 8:6.

6. ^ Robert D. Culver, “mishpat,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), p. 948 (emphasis added).

7. ^ For the usage of “judgment” as a synonym of “justice” see: Ex. 23:2, 6; Ps. 33:5; 89:14; 111: 7; 119:121; Prov. 1:3; 17:23; 21:3; 31:5.

8. ^ Ibid., p. 949.

9. ^ Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar, p. 453.

10. ^ Culver, “mishpat,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 949.

11. ^ John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, trans. Henry Beveridge (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), pp. 478-479.

12. ^ Charles Hodge, A Commentary on Romans (reprint ed., Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972), p. 413.

13. ^ Rousas J. Rushdoony, Romans & Galatians (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), p. 245.

14. ^ Stephen Charnock, Discourses upon the Existence and Attributes of God, 2 vols. (reprint ed., Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979), 2:444.

15. ^ Ibid., 2:444-445.

16. ^ William O. Einwechter, Ethics and God’s Law: An Introduction to Theonomy (Mill Hall, PA: Preston/Speed Publications, 1995), pp. 48-49.

17. ^ Specifically, God commissions the state to require the payment of damages or restitution (Ex. 21:18-19, 22; 22:1, 8-9), to inflict corporal punishment (Deut. 22:18; 25:1-3; Prov. 19:29; 20:30; 26:3), and execute those who are worthy of death (Ex. 21:12-17; Deut. 19:12-13, 16-21; Gen. 9:5-6).

18. ^ The picture that emerges in the Old Testament is that Israel’s civil government was decentralized and local. Apparently the government of the nation was divided up among the twelve tribes with each tribe being responsible to govern the people within its boundaries. The most important government in Israel was the local government that functioned in the gates of the towns and cities of each tribe. The men who ruled the tribes and the men who sat in these gates “judging” the people were elected to their office by the people.

19. ^ Cf. also, Deut. 17:15; 2 Sam. 23:3; 2 Chron. 19:2; Neh. 7:2; Ps. 2:10-12; Prov. 14:34; 28:4.

20. ^ John Calvin, Sermons on Deuteronomy, trans. Arthur Golding (facsimile reprint of 1583 edition; Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1987), pp. 648-649. The text was slightly edited to bring it into conformity with modern spelling and vocabulary for its inclusion here.

21. ^ William Symington, Messiah the Prince (reprint of 1884 ed.; Edmonton: Still Waters Revival Books, 1990), pp. 242-243.

22. ^ For some reason, when it comes to choosing civil leaders, many in the church consider the biblical standards as irrelevant, and even preach the “virtue” of choosing between “the lesser of two evils.”  It is true that often there are not God-fearing men to vote for in our elections. However, this does not justify voting for “evil” men. The problem of having no godly men to vote for will only be solved when the church begins to train up men in the principles of biblical civil law, and then challenges them to glorify God as His minister in the office of magistrate.

23. ^ An example of a religious test for office is provided by the “Frame of Government of Pennsylvania” (1682) which stated: “That all Treasurers, Judges, Masters of the Rolls, Sheriffs, Justices of the Peace, and other officers and persons whatsoever, relating to courts, or trials of causes, or any other service in the government; and all Members elected to serve in provincial Council and General Assembly, and all that have the right to elect such Members, shall be such as profess faith in Jesus Christ, and are not convicted of ill fame, or unsober and dishonest conversation, and that are of one and twenty years of age, at least; and that all such so qualified, shall be capable of the said several employments and privileges, as aforesaid.” Source of Our Liberties, ed. Richard L. Perry (Chicago: The American Bar Association, 1959), p. 220. An example of a religious oath of office is provided for us in the “Fundamental Orders of Connecticut” (1639) which said: “I N. W. being chosen to be Gournor within this Jurisdiction, for the yeare ensuing, and vntil a new be chosen, doe sweare by the greate and dreadfull name of the everliueing God, to promote the publicke good and peace of the same, according to the best of my skill; as also will mayntayne all lawfull priuiledges of this Comonwealth; as also that all wholsome lawes that are or shall be made lawfull authority here established, be duly executed; and will further the execution of Justice according to the rule of Gods word; so help me God, in the name of the Lo: Jesus Christ.” Ibid., p. 123.

24. ^ Culver, “mishpat,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, p. 949.

25. ^ As cited by David McAllister, Christian Civil Government, rev. by T. H. Acheson and Wm. Parson, 6th ed. (Pittsburgh: National Reform Association, 1927), p. 20.

26. ^ Ibid., p. 347.

27. ^ Do we believe that the Constitution will be amended any time soon to reflect God’s sovereignty over the nation? No, we do not. Much work must be done before that blessed day arrives. In many respects, we are further from a Christian amendment today than when the National Reform Movement began in 1863. But this does not deter us. We believe that the Word of God requires a national confession of God and His law in the fundamental law of the land, i.e., the Constitution (we also believe that it is necessary for each state constitution to confess Christ). Therefore, we testify to this biblical truth, and labor and pray for the day when the people of this land, having been transformed by the power of the living God, willingly and gratefully confess the Lord our God as King in the national Constitution and in the individual state constitutions. We believe that Scripture predicts that such a day will come. In our “Principles of Christian Civil Government” we declare: “The Scriptures foretell the day when all nations shall acknowledge and obey Christ as their ruler, and shall be blessed under His glorious reign (Ps. 22:27; 72:8, 11, 17; 86:9; Isa. 2:2-4; Dan. 7:13-14, 27; Rev. 11:15).” 

28. ^ “Zion” is the place where God dwells and from whence He rules. The earthly Zion is figurative of the heavenly Zion (Heb. 13:22).

29. ^ See William Edgar, “Christ’s Kingship in Contemporary Politics,” in Explicitly Christian Politics, ed. William O. Einwechter (Pittsburgh: The Christian Statesman Press, 1997) for a fuller discussion of Psalm 2.

30. ^ In addition to Ps. 2; Ps. 110; Dan. 7:13; and the New Testament texts that declare their fulfillment in Christ that we have cited already, see also: Ps. 22:27-31; 72:7-11; Isa. 2:2-4; 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Dan. 2:44; Zech. 9:9-10; Lk. 1:31-33; Acts 17:7; Phil. 2:9-11; Rev. 11:15.

31. ^ Jesus Christ is Himself divine. The Son of God, the second person of the Holy Trinity, took to Himself human nature in the incarnation, so that in Jesus Christ you have inseparably joined together deity and humanity in one person yet without any confusion between the two natures.  Jesus is fully God and fully man, yet one Christ. So in this sense, though the judgment is Christ’s, it still remains that “judgment is God’s.”

32. ^ William Symington cogently argues that Christ is King of the nations in his book, Messiah the Prince, pp. 192-230. He then states: “If the Mediator is the King of nations, nations are subjects of the Mediator, and all duties which subjects owe to their prince must be due by them to him.” Ibid., p. 230. Symington lists six specific duties that rulers and nations owe to Messiah the Prince. These are: “First. It is the duty of nations and their rulers, to have respect to the glory of Christ in all their institutions and transactions . . . .  Secondly. It is the duty of nations, as subjects of Christ, to take his law as their rule . . . . Thirdly. It is a duty which nations owe to Messiah the Prince, to have respect to moral and religious qualifications in those whom they appoint over them . . . . Fourthly. The nations ought to have respect to Christ, in their subjection to those who rule over them by his authority . . . . Fifthly. Nations, as the moral subjects of Messiah the Prince, are under obligation to recognize his rightful authority over them, by swearing allegiance to him . . . . Sixthly. It is the duty of nations, as such, to have respect to [the Christian] religion.” Ibid., pp. 231, 234, 241, 249, 256, 262.  

33. ^ National Reform Association, “Statement of Purpose.”

34. ^ They then paid the price for their rejection of Jesus Christ as their king in the Roman devastation of their country and the city of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.

35. ^ Those who accept the authority of Scripture and yet reject any or all of these conclusions will find themselves in a difficult position. They must confess that in civil government “the judgment is God’s” (as the inspired Scriptures declare), but then they must explain how the conclusions stated above do not follow from this biblical premise, a premise they confess to be true. 

36. ^ The Puritan pastor, John Cotton, in his “A Discourse About Civil Government,” came to conclusions about civil government that are nearly identical to the ones we have reached in this essay. Cotton stated: “Theocracy, or to make the Lord our governor, is the best form of government in a Christian commonwealth . . . men who are free to choose (as in a new plantation they are) ought to establish [it] . . . That form of government where, (a) the people who have the power of choosing their governors are in covenant with God, (b) wherein the men chosen by them are godly men and fitted with a spirit of government, (c) in which the laws they rule by are the laws of God, (d) wherein laws are executed, inheritances allotted, and civil differences composed according to God’s appointment . . . .” Church and State in American History, ed. John F. Wilson and Donald L. Drakeman (Boston: Beacon Press, 1987), p. 7. Cotton also said in this same discourse that, “The form of Government which gives unto Christ his due preeminence is the best government in a Christian commonwealth.” Ibid.

This article is a revision of the essay that was originially published as chapter 2 in the book Explicitly Christian Politics, ed. William O. Einwechter.